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Rosebell is a multimedia communications specialist, journalist and award-winning blogger with experience in gender, peace and conflict. Currently works on public interest litigation for gender justice with focus on Latin America -Africa learning. Rosebell holds a Masters in media, peace and conflict studies from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
It is almost a month since the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned after pressure from protests that have gripped the country for more than two years. Many lives have been lost and the unrest doesn't seem to be able to end. Desalegn had been in power since 2012—he succeeded late iron-handed ruler late Meles Zenawi and continued his legacy of the idea of a developmental state where questions of human rights did not matter as long as the country registered some economic progress.
Behind this are the Chinese loans Ethiopia is reported to have gotten—$10.7 billion in loans from 2010 to 2015, according to the China-Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University.
Seeking cheap labour in Ethiopia, Chinese apparel manufacturers have relocated some of the industries to the Horn of Africa nation—with some consequences. Many people were displaced by the Hawassa Industrial Park, which is south of the capital Addis Ababa. A very poignant quote from one of the managers of the factories in this feature by Bloomberg sums it up:
"Twenty-four months ago, the land we're sitting on was farm fields," he says. "What country can change in 24 months? That is Ethiopia!"
The workers—mostly women—earn about $25 a month, attracting the middlemen ramping up production in Ethiopia for Guess, Levi's, H&M, and other labels.
The piece shows that consumers in the western world continue to be oblivious to the impact of the clothing industry as manufacturers make inroads with African labour. In Ethiopia, a country where civic space is too narrow and non-governmental organisations were almost banned after a law came in that requires 90 percent of their finances to be sourced locally, such stories are difficult to come by.
The country is now under another state of emergency. It remains to be seen how these industries will survive. And if they do, the extent of their impact will continue to be paraded as rosy by the government while undermining the human impact in terms of working conditions, lost farmlands and local economy.